Gaudino Fellow Goes to Guatemala – January 2011
This winter study I was fortunate enough to be named a Gaudino Fellow. As a Gaudino Fellow I went to study Spanish in a Guatemalan school. As part of my Spanish Immersion Program at the Pop Wuj Spanish School, I did community service and lived with a host family. Not only did my Spanish exponentially improve but I was also taught by and lived with the most amazing people. During one community service project, I, along with other volunteers, helped to build stoves in Guatemalan homes where the families used wood and fire to cook their food. We made a direct impact on a family’s ability to survive and activities like these constantly filled my stay in this beautiful country. My experience during this past January was life altering. It was so special that I plan to relive it during the spring break of my junior year when I return to Guatemala.
As January 2nd approached, my reality set in. I was going to another country without anyone I knew and I would be living with people whom I had never met, much less spoken to. What was I thinking? The only saving grace was I knew the language and at least I would not starve. After I arrived safely at the school, a little of my trepidation lifted. It all came rushing back once I realized my host family did not have electricity. Now I was really in for it. Here I was, Desiree the World Traveler, in a situation where I was most uncomfortable. Was this how it was going to be every night? I had no idea. Suddenly the lights came on. Whew! We all blew out the candles that were illuminating the living room and we continued our introductions.
Just as we began playing singing games to make me feel at home, the power went out AGAIN. Is this going to be an every night thing? My Guatemalan family seemed unnerved by these recent events. I was trying to remain calm but inside I was a “basket-case.” Uninterested in the singing games but maintaining my smile, I was surprised when the daughters suddenly said they were going out to see their sister play basketball. Everyone else stayed home and then my Guatemalan mom told me it was time for bed. 8:30 PM!!! I politely went to my room, wondering how in the world I was going to adapt to this way of life. In my room, I could no longer contain what I was trying to hide. The floodgates were open and then I had to stop crying so I could ask to borrow my family’s telephone. Speaking to my mom in New York, I tried to sound all grown up but she heard the sorrow in my voice. After I assured her I was fine, I returned to my room, but not before my Guatemalan mom gave me a hug, reassuring me I would be fine. Behind the comfort of my bedroom door, I changed into my pajamas, and cried myself to sleep. Homesickness took over. I felt alone in a very strange place.
This sentiment was a one-time feeling. The next night I went out with my school friends and the following night, I ate a luxurious dinner to celebrate the birthday of my basketball-playing sister. We all talked and talked and talked. The language barrier seemed nonexistent and sooner than later I was right at home. I became some comfortable with my family and my entire experience in Guatemala that I cried both when I left my teacher at my school and my family on the morning I returned to the United States. When I left I did not say “Adios” but “Hasta Luego” because we will all meet again. =)